Generosity, hospitality and joy
How can we be everyday miracles to people? By Michael Shaw
I like a good survey, sometimes they really help us to understand where our culture is, or where it is going. Other times they just show how mad the British public actually are!
But this weekend two surveys caught my attention - both reported by the BBC. In the first we learnt that 3 in 5 Britons believe in miracles. Fifty per cent had prayed for one and amazingly 37 per cent of adults believed Jesus performed miracles. Also amazingly, 37 per cent of all Christians surveyed had never prayed for a miracle.
In the second we learnt that almost 40 per cent of 16-24 year olds feel lonely, the highest of any age demographic.
The first question on surveys is, so what? The first might give us hope, the second not so much. I find it fascinating that so many young people, with all their “social” media, feel thoroughly disconnected. And while it is great to see that so many people believe in miracles and pray for them to happen, why are our churches not full to bursting?
The problem starts with the loneliness question: the church is a great community, but we are terrible at selling it to people. The other problem is our theology, which tends to drift from community building into personal salvation. Now please don’t misread me, I believe we all need to be saved but we have easily fallen into the trap of thinking that is all people need - to be saved. Jesus came preaching that opportunity of salvation, but he does that in the context of community. Jesus calls his disciples not just into a relationship with him (follow me), but also into a relationship with each other, what we now call the “church”.
The church has fallen into the trap of our consumerist and individualised culture by saying that it is all about giving people an experience (religion) rather than seeing the community as a place of mutual service. This is born out by a recent article in the Daily Express where a vicar says he wants church services to be like raves. However, raves are hedonistic, self-centred and isolating events. They are all about my experience, and while this is done together, it is not the foundation of a community experience.
So while we have the solution to isolation and loneliness, we are actually creating a culture that does not reveal that to people.
What about miracles? The problem here is different, but comes from the same route. We are so busy trying to save people for “heaven”, we have forgotten that people need bread for today. Yes, we do have CAP Centres, foodbanks and soup runs, but often we are doing those not in the community, but to the community. We are not taking time to walk the same streets as people, as Jesus did. The result is that the average person looking for a Christian to walk with them and pray with them does not have the relationship to ask them.
We are also not equipping Christians with the faith to pray for miracles, let alone see one happen. Maybe it is simply because our Christianity is too safe? We are not stepping out in faith in our lives, and therefore we have not experienced God’s provision.
This year at Devonport Community Baptist Church we have had a vision for the year. It is to be a Hospitable, Generous and Joyful community. I believe that is what made the Acts 2 community so attractive. So despite being a financially poor church in a very deprived area, we have sought to live generously to offer hospitality and to act joyfully in all we do.
While this is yet to bear immediate fruit, I believe over time as we share our lives with people, opportunities for miracles can and will occur.
My hope is that rather than trying to find quick fixes which glean some results, by putting in place a community that has at its heart generosity, hospitality and joy, we will reap much greater rewards.
Image | Tim Marshall | Unsplash
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Baptist Church in Plymouth
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